Article and Photo By Rachel LaFranchi, Farm News Production Editor
|Lee Walker stands next to a gravenstein apple tree at his orchard on Upp Road. Walker’s family has been growing apples since 1910.|
Walker Apples began in 1910 when Arthur Upp planted an Orchard in Graton. Now, the apple orchard is run by his grandson, Lee Walker, and great grandson, Lee Walker III.
In 1963, the Walker family built their processing and packing facility. Lee Walker reminisces back to the 70’s when there were 32 packing places in Sonoma County. Now, Walker Apples is one of a few apple packing facilities in the county.
Walker has two other children, John and Suzy, three grandchildren and two great grandchildren. While they all hold their own jobs outside the family business, everyone pitches in to help out from selling apples at the fair and helping deliver apples to working on the packing line and preforming property maintenance.
Walker considers his 55 acre orchard small to medium sized. They produce nearly 600 tons of apples a year, many of which are sold locally. Walker Apples can be found at G&G Market and Andy’s as well as the Santa Rosa Farmers’ Market. Additionally, they have a wholesale house in South San Francisco.
Walker Apples grows over 25 varieties of apples including Golden Delicious, Jonathon, Granny Smith and Pink Lady. However, nearly 40% of the apples they grow are gravensteins.
Walker says they are “committed to gravensteins”. He is glad that the Gravenstein Apple Fair still promotes the specific variety of fruit and that it is still recognized in the community.
The fruit at Walker Apples is dry farmed, using no irrigation as many growers in other areas do. Walker notes that the climate is something that makes Sonoma County special. He is passionate about Sonoma County Agriculture, but acknowledges that is it becoming harder and harder to farm in the county.
“Everyone in the family would like to continue the business,” said Walker, “but times have changes and it’s hard for this type of business to survive now.” Labor and environmental regulations are two of the main reasons he lists that make it hard for a business to thrive.
Apples can be purchased directly at their location on Upp Road or they can be purchased at the Gravenstein Apple Fair on August 8th and 9th.